The 19th-century miners who swarmed California’s Gold Country made an indelible mark on Tuolumne County, dotting the map with a string of settlements that still have a boomtown feel. If you’re driving up to Yosemite National Park along the Highway 49 or Highway 120 corridors, it’s worth scheduling an extra day to do some exploring with your four-legged friend.
Be sure to put Columbia, “the Gold Rush town that refused to die,” on your itinerary. Engagingly preserved as a state historic park, its 1850s ambiance is captured in historic buildings housing businesses and exhibits themed to the era. As far as we know, there’s nowhere else in Gold Country where you can treat your pooch to a ride in a reproduction Wells Fargo stagecoach.
Eight miles away, at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, visitors with dogs are welcome to explore the grounds and extensive exhibits, as well as hop aboard open-air cars pulled by vintage locomotives of the “Movie Railroad,” so called because scores of Hollywood films and television shows have been filmed here.
In town, you’ll both remember a stay at the 1859 National Hotel, whose vine-covered patio is a great place to enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or Sunday Champagne brunch. In nearby Sonora, the Best Western Sonora Oaks is a comfy and dog-friendly option.
Highway 120 out of Oakdale begins its twisting climb to the national park at Big Oak Flat, and you’ll want to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road as you negotiate the steep grade up to Groveland. The surrounding Stanislaus National Forest is a recreational wonderland with many day-hike opportunities. On a hot summer day, there’s no better place to cool off than Rainbow Pool, a series of natural swimming holes on the South Fork of the Tuolumne River.
At the end of an active day it’s nice to come “home” to a hot shower and comfortable surroundings. Yosemite Ridge Resort at Buck’s Meadow near Groveland is a kid- and dog-friendly complex with a variety of lodging options, while Yosemite Pines offers camping, cabins, a pool and other amenities. Soft beds don’t get any softer than the “mile high” feather versions at the very dog-friendly Groveland Hotel, whose fine-dining restaurant spills onto a dog-friendly patio.